JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Mike Chappell – longtime Colts beat writer for the Indianapolis Star for 25 seasons now with Fox 59 – on the Colts as they enter Sunday's 2021 Week 10 game against the Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis …
Question: The Colts, after a 1-4 start, have won three of four games and continue to have real playoff hopes at 4-5 after a 45-30 victory over the New York Jets last Thursday. What's the state of the Colts entering Week 10?
Answer: They're starting to figure it out and get back to their identity, which is a team that can run the ball when it wants to run the ball. When they brought [quarterback] Carson Wentz in [via trade this past offseason], they didn't want him to be Superman. They didn't want him to have to be the guy. Finally, after a lot of injuries – including injuries to him – they're getting btoack where he's part of the offense and not "the" offense. He had two bad throws against Tennessee, but other than that he has played pretty well: efficient, accurate, pushing the ball down the field. But first and foremost, when this team has been running the ball, they're pretty good on offense. And right now, they're running the ball pretty darned well.
Q: You mentioned Wentz. What has he brought since arriving in the trade from the Eagles – and has he been what they hoped?
A: He probably has been more than they hoped. With this sample size, nine games, this is all they need from him. He had a stretch early with bad ankles, which really impeded him. But he's bringing an ability to extend plays, avoid the rush and push the ball down the field. Now that he's healthy, he occasionally gives them some stuff with run-pass options. He has 120 yards rushing and a touchdown. The issue always will be an occasional bonehead play, and he simply can't do that. They're not that good that they can overcome that. When he takes care of his job and distributes the ball and is accurate … he has 17 touchdowns and three interceptions; that's pretty darned good. Two of the interceptions were just awful. But if I listed 20 issues with the Colts this year, he would not be one of them. He has been at least what was advertised.
Q: When they're good, what are they offensively?
A: They want to be a team that establishes the line of scrimmage and that uses its offensive line, which is coming together. They are averaging 5.1 yards per carry; that's what they want with [running backs Jonathan] Taylor and [Nyheim] Hines. At the same time, they're pushing the ball downfield. Michael Pittman is establishing himself as a No. 1 receiver. They want balance, but when push comes to shove, they want to manhandle you up front and let Taylor do heavy damage – which opens up play action for Wentz and Pittman and Hines as a receiver.
Q: The Colts have times when they look good defensively. Are they?
A: I'm not sold on the defense. I don't trust it. It's strange: They're starting to get a pass rush, but the edge sacks aren't coming. Yet, they're among the league leaders in takeaways. It's crazy. They're second or third in turnover differential. They're not stopping people a lot; they couldn't get off the field in [a loss to] Baltimore. Against Tennessee, they couldn't get off the field when they needed to. It's a crazy combination of not a strong pass rush – and that's normally where you get turnovers – but [linebacker] Darius Leonard has nine takeaways (four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions). He just has a knack for punching the ball out. He has perfected it. He goes for the knockout punch. He is playing well and they're good against the run. But they're giving up almost 70 percent completions, eight yards an attempt, 23 touchdowns … I don't trust the defense against upper-echelon quarterbacks. But somehow they're making plays.
Q: The Colts at 4-5 still have a chance to contend. They certainly believe they can. Do you see it?
A: It's there for them – not the division (the AFC South). Tennessee is pretty darned good. But the wild card is in play … the rest of the AFC is muddled around. It's there. They need to find a way to get to 10-7, which for them will mean beating a team such as Arizona, Tampa Bay or Buffalo. But they're playing well enough with eight games remaining to get back in. It's going to take some help from the rest of the AFC to bring them back in with a couple of losses here and there elsewhere.
Q: Is this a playoffs-or-bust situation? How is this season a success?
A: We thought going into the season that it was not only playoffs or bust but win a playoff game or bust. Because they made some bold moves in the offseason – primarily Carson Wentz. This is a very young team, but they have made moves to put themselves in position. It's get to the playoffs and do something. They started 0-3, but a 9-8 record and failing to get to the playoffs would be viewed as a disappointment – and it should. This team is to the point where playoffs need to be a realistic goal and to not get there should be a major disappointment because they have a lot of pieces in place.